Be Unique, Get Funded

Be Unique, Get Funded

This is Guest Blog post from CONNECTpreneur Coach and partner Ines LeBow.

Attracting investors to get your business funded is all about being unique, even if the product you’re presenting isn’t a new invention or innovation. Earlier this year, I highlighted 7 Factors for Startup Success based on the philosophies of Shark Tank star Mark Cuban.

He believes that you need to find a way to make at least one aspect of your product or service uniquely your own. You can do so by thinking about the special characteristics your product will have, to whom you will market it, and how you differentiate it from the entrenched competitors. Trying to be the same results in competition based on price, which is not how you want to compete.

In Mr. Cuban’s own words about being unique:

Creating opportunities means looking where others are not

and

When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?

Not Just Socks

Socks have been around for a long time. Even the athletic sock category has been pretty saturated, but that didn’t stop Bombas from their start-up business focused on making a better athletic sock. I covered the case of Bombas in an earlier article entitled 5 Keys to Convince Investors Your Product Can Make Money.

They invested a lot of time and effort into identifying what made athletes, fitness junkies, hikers, runners, speed walkers, and other heavy users of athletic hosiery disappointed, frustrated, and annoyed about their existing sock of choice. They designed and produced their socks to address those issues, conducting significant product testing to ensure the user feedback hit the bullseye.

Successful Close

If you are an early Shark Tank devotee, you’ll know that the founders of Bombas went on the show and left with $200,000 in funding. That’s right…$200,000 of someone else’s money to launch an athletic sock. So it wasn’t about an exciting new technology product but about a unique take on a product for which there was already a defined, established market with committed customers who are continually looking to improve the equipment and accessories they use to perform their activity.

So what is unique about your product? Perhaps you can approach real-life users who are enthusiasts and get their perspective on the unique benefits your product offers. Often, it’s the little things that make the biggest impact to your target audience, which translates to how you differentiate yourself to potential investors.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Protect Yourself. Live Outside The Bubble

This is a Guest Blog post by Marty LeClerc, an experienced investor, portfolio manager, and investment adviser.

There is a mania hovering over the investment landscape. Bonds. Digital currencies. A large part of the stock market. Certain real estate sectors. All driven to bullish extremes. Priced for perfection. Priced for disappointment.

Someone tweeted. The only thing to fear in the financial markets is the lack of fear itself.

Bullishness seems the only option. Investors, prudent and otherwise, regret past cautiousness. A woulda, coulda, shoulda feeling…

In hindsight the past is obvious.

Regret can lead to fear-of-missing-out. Said fear leads to costly investment errors. Think Warren Buffett. What the wise do in the beginning, fools do in the end.

Big challenge for investors right now? Protect yourself. Avoid regret-induced foolishness. Avoid lasting errors.

Repeat a mantra. It is not how much money you make during a bull market, but how much money you keep once the tide turns. Make this your mantra.

Remember. No one regretted prudence going into last March. No fear-of-missing-out when liquidity dried-up and prices crashed. There was only fear itself.

That was last Spring. A time to be greedy. Today, warning signs abound. It is a time to be cautious.

Nearly everything indicates stock indices are overvalued. More so than even in 1999, the previous gold-standard for overvaluation. Only in relation to bonds is this not true. Interest rates were a lot higher then.

Speculation is rife. Take SPACs. Special purpose acquisition companies. These are blind pools of cash. Designed to take a company from private hands to a stock market listing. Call it an alternative to the traditional IPO, but with less investor protection.

SPACs ebb and flow with stock market sentiment. At tops they are enormously popular. During bear markets, no one wants them. Now they are the rage. Issuance uncontained. Setting all records. Everyone is involved. A-Rod. Colin Kaepernick. Billy Beane. Shaquille O’Neal. Some 300 companies. Raising over $100 billion. In real terms, on a par with both 1929 and 2007.

Maybe worse. One example. Churchill Capital Corp IV (NYSE: CCIV).  It has cash worth a bit less than $10 a share. Only other asset some sexy plans from management. Nothing else. Currently costs $30 to own that $10. You would think paying $3 for $1 is self-evidently wacky. Not in this stock market.

Old thinking. Interest rates can only go to zero. Speculative bubbles do not happen during severe recessions. Prosperity equals a rising stock market.

New thinking. Everything is upside down.

Sobering thought-experiment by Horizon Kinetics. Assume the roaring ‘20s awaits us. Assume good times continue to roll through the ‘30s. Assume the economy expands 4% a year for 20 years.

Simple math. People will be twice as rich in 2040 as today.

Use the so-called Buffett Indicator. Assume the ratio contracts from today’s lofty levels. Down to a bit below its historic mean. By 2040.

Simple math. The S&P 500 Index experiences zero appreciation for 2-decades. Lesson. Prosperity might not translate into profits for passive investors after all.

Research Affiliates and GMO provide a public service. Excellent research for free. They follow the data. Do not trying to sell you anything. Both have arrived at the same conclusion for the S&P 500. Negative returns over the next 7 year period.

Bitcoin is not an investment. Does not generate income. Claims to be a store-of-value. Like the dollar. Except it relies on tokens. Professor Roubini says, “the Flintstones had a more sophisticated monetary system based on a benchmark: the cartoon cavemen used shells.”

No intrinsic value in a bitcoin. Only a promise of limited supply. One price-anchor. The cost of mining a coin. Runs into the several thousands of dollars. Depending on electricity rates.

Bitcoin is a haven for criminals. Tough luck if fraudsters steal it. Tough luck if you lose your key. Ledger erased. Bitcoin gone forever.

Bitcoin is bad for the environment. A rapacious energy user. BBC says mining it uses roughly the same amount of energy as Argentina, Norway or Switzerland.

Promoters say digital currencies are a medium-of-exchange.

Everyone wishes they bought bitcoin when. Up 9-fold in less than a year. Up 100-fold in just over 3 ½ years. Up 1,000-fold in 8 years.

Bitcoin is off-the-charts volatile. More than doubled since December 2017. To get that return, you needed patience. Bitcoin crashed 80%. Rallied. Crashed 50%. Rallied. Crashed 25%. Last month. Rallied. Now up 50% in 2-weeks.

The bible says there is nothing new under the sun. In 1630s Holland people were concerned with currency debasement. They sought alternative stores-of-value. They discovered tulip bulbs. The rest is history.

Tulip bulbs differ from bitcoin. A tulip bulb is edible. It has intrinsic value.

The fuel for speculation is liquidity. Money supply expanded by 25% last year. A Fed-induced liquidity-run.

Some fear an out-of-control printing press. Claim it will generate consumer price inflation. Only discernable inflation is asset price inflation. So far.

Liquidity-runs defy logic. Until they do not. Past runs ended badly. Think 1974, 1987 and 1999.

Repeat the mantra. It is not how much money you make during a bull market, but how much money you keep once the tide turns.

Bonds have never been more expensive. The cost of money never cheaper. Not for four millennia. Everyone had to pay higher interest rates. Babylonians. Egyptians. Athenians. Romans. Byzantines. Everyone paid higher rates during long deflationary periods. Think 19th Century. When money was backed by gold.

Are bonds in a bubble? Economics professors might say no. Capital is no longer scarce. Traditional premium for owning “risk-less” bonds is evaporated. Rejoice at the euthanasia of the rentier.

Common sense says otherwise. Something like $17 trillion in government guaranteed bonds are assured to lose money, if held to maturity. Investment grade corporate bonds provide nominal income. Will lose money in real terms. Junk bonds yield less than many blue-chip stocks. Will get crushed in the next downturn.

Everything is compared to what is on offer in the bond market. Interest rates determine what people pay for real estate and businesses. Works like a lever. Rates fall, everything is worth more. Rates rise, everything is worth less.

Fed says rates will be low for a long time. Too much debt. There is no other option. Wall Street assumes rates will be zero forever. Too much debt. Rising interest rates is too painful to contemplate.

Big faith in Central Banks. They walk on water. They have all the power. Masters of debasement. Servants of markets. Call it a maestro bubble. Everyone is following the yellow brick road. Wizards of Finance becoming the Wizards of Oz is too painful to contemplate. No one is ready.

Take a reality check. Repeat the mantra. It is not how much money you make during a bull market, but how much money you keep once the tide turns.

Live outside the bubble.

There is no income in fixed income. Ditch longer-term bonds. Stay within 5 years. Not a random number. Ditch junk bonds. Credit standards are beyond lax. Ditch bond funds.

Stay clear of digital currencies. Traditional stores-of-value, like gold, are better. Unlevered precious metals royalty trusts are best. They produce income.

Understand real estate’s true problem. Not COVID-19. Not Amazon AMZN +0.5%. Not eCommerce. It is the Capital Cycle. It will take years to absorb inventory.

Live outside the bubble.

Avoid compelling stories. Pay attention to cash yields. Adopt a curator’s mindset. Pick and choose securities that can prosper outside the bubble. Be idiosyncratic. Do not be a mindless price-taker!

Everyone is focused on how the world will change in the next decade. Very sexy. Very bubbly. Bezos says this is stupid. Focus instead on what will remain the same.

Outside the bubble, the playing field is surprisingly large. Quality companies on offer at reasonable prices. Companies that will be around. Priced to deliver adequate returns. Growing dividends of 3 – 4%. Probable earnings growth of 3 – 7%. No sexy narratives. No bubble required for a happy ending.

Non-stretch predictions for 2030. America and China will be adversaries. Humans will eat food. Get sick. Consume financial services. Keep a clean body. Use energy. Invest in these areas.

Defense stocks are exempt from the business cycle. They are reasonably valued in real terms. Dirt cheap in relative terms. Less than 15X earnings. Growing dividends. Own Lockheed Martin LMT -0.4%. Own General Dynamics GD +0.8%. Own Huntington Ingalls HII +3.3%. China is not our bosom buddy. Never will be.

Shares in venerable consumer brands are outside the bubble. Big powerful companies. Can weather harsh storms. Coca-Cola. Kellogg K +0.7%. Kimberly-Clark KMB 0.0%. PepsiCo. If interest rates remain low, their well-covered dividends are too juicy to ignore. If interest rates rise, they will fall less.

Keep high cash reserves. Current risks in the system are ungaugeable. Be patient. The bubble will end. Some day.

The author owns shares in Coca-Cola, General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls, Kimberly Clark, Lockheed Martin, and PepsiCo Marty Leclerc manages the Barrack Yard Global Core Portfolio. Identifying businesses of lasting value that will benefit from major long-term trends, but that are resilient enough to navigate an uncertain future, is my goal.I choose companies from the world’s stock markets; attempting to mitigate risk by relying on a robust investment process, by focusing on valuations, and by anchoring decision-making in “predictive factors.” I am a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia and an Investment Advisory Representative of Barrack Yard Advisors llc., a Registered Investment Advisor in Washington, DC.

Get Your Business Funded in 2021: A Look at Super Angels

This is a Guest blog post frim Ines LeBow, a CONNECTpreneur strategic partner and Coach. She has prepped dozens of successful presenting companies who have successfully raised capital.

The year (2020) that will be forever defined as the year of the Covid pandemic brought about significant upheaval and change in many areas of private and professional life across the globe. It also sparked tremendous shifts in the start-up investment world. One class of investors emerging is what we call “Super Angels”.

What Are Super Angels?

Super Angels in the business investment world are best described as a hybrid between traditional angel investors and venture capitalists. They tend to invest early in the seed round of funding at startups at levels that are above what gets raised in the friends-and-family round but less than a typical venture round of funding. However, when it comes to how they raise funds, they approach the process much like a typical VC would.

Super Angels are not just serial start-up investors; they invest in businesses as their full-time gig and tend to have a large and growing portfolio in which they take an active interest. They don’t tend to be interested in long-term investments or board roles, thus they like to look for business investments in which the principals are experienced entrepreneurs.

Why Should I Consider Super Angels?

As a result of financial, economic, and market trends, institutional venture capital activity is still on the rebound. Some rode the wave of growth and allowed for a bloated infrastructure and high fees that are now preventing them from being nimble in the market. Others have their portfolio tied up in businesses that are still recovering from the pandemic, and they’re not yet willing to exit those investments.

These changes with traditional VCs open up opportunities with angel investors and super angels, especially as the investment model is changing to one of funding more startups but with less cash invested in each business. One added advantage of this investment approach is that super angels have a broad reach to the kind of talent, investment contacts, and potential M&A opportunities that can go beyond the access a traditional investor can provide.

How to Get Super Angels to Invest

Many of the top super angels don’t just take an appointment from anyone off the street. They require a referral from someone they trust, so cultivating a good network in the start-up world is going to be important. But don’t give up hope if you aren’t well networked. This isn’t just about who you know, although it helps. These are smart, experienced investors looking for good people and great ideas behind which to put their money. If you employ a sound strategy and disciplined approach, you can be successful in getting funded by a super angel. Here are a few articles you can review to ensure you’re prepared to engage with a super angel investor:

If you are an entrepreneur looking for funding, are interested in presenting at CONNECTpreneur.org, or would like to learn more about how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You can find me on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or my ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Do you Want to Sell Your Business for Maximum Value?

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This is a Guest blog post from Guillermo Birmingham, CPA, Partner at B2B CFO.

Want to Sell Your Business? Begin with the End in Mind!

At a Glance:
◆ 73 million Baby Boomers will retire in the next several years. 1
◆ Baby Boomers own more than 4 million privately-held businesses.
◆ They employ between 60-70% of all U.S. employees.
◆ 49% of surveyed business owners lack knowledge of the market value of
their business.

Selling a business for top dollar is a dream for many business owners. Building and growing a business takes tremendous sacrifice so that one day the Owner can enjoy the fruit of their labor and live a life of comfort and prosperity.

Have you put much thought into what your business would look like the day you retire? Thinking of selling your company someday? Do you plan to leave your legacy to a family member? It all starts with a well-planned and executed exit strategy.

Your objective when selling is to get maximum value. This requires time, preparation
and a team of professionals. If selling your business is on the horizon, B2B CFO® suggests
you begin with the end in mind and follow these key steps:


Define goals and prepare your exit strategy

When considering the sale of a businessa business owner has a wide variety of transaction options to sell the business. (e.g,.
ESOPs, Financial Buyer, Strategic Buyer, or Family Member). A formal business exit
plan puts the goals, priorities and strategies in place and in writing, for a successful
transition. Without a clearly defined and communicated plan, business owners are
leaving their personal and financial future to chance. A strategized exit plan can help
you to maximize the value you get and successfully market your business to potential
buyers or investors.

Time the sale of your business

The value of your business is correlated to the market within which it operates – therefore, you should look to sell when market conditions are healthy. Selling in a down-turned economy is not always advisable. If you anticipate growth in the future, wait until the economy rebounds. Also, consider if you are emotionally prepared to sell. Do you arrive at work each day excited to tackle new challenges, or are you feeling irritable and burned out by the business?


Create maximum value pre-sale

The number one reason deals get delayed or don’t happen is due to declining financial performance. The value of your business before and during the transition process is key to obtaining the profit you desire. It could take 12-24 months of preparation before putting your business on the market. To help improve the value of your business consider strategies to build a diverse customer base create recurring revenue streams, ensure consistent and healthy cash flow, demonstrate scalability and show a strong competitive advantage. Analyze your processes and look for ways to increase operational efficiency , reduce expenses and control inventory without affecting your operations. The goal is to ensure your business is attractive to a large pool of potential buyers.


Determine what your business is worth

To find the value of your business, subtract liabilities from the assets. A business is generally worth a multiple of its profit. However, don’t just base your assessment of the business’s value on number crunching. Consider the value of your business based on its geographical location, customer-base and your industry . Business valuation requires a solid grasp of both how value has been created prior to the valuation date, and how it will continue in the future. An expert in business valuations will help you gauge an accurate assessment. Prepare your financials: If you’re considering selling your business, it’s important to remember that prospective buyers are looking for clear facts and financial records on your business to prove whether it is a profitable investment for them. Some records to be sure to have on hand include: two years of profit and loss statements, current balance sheet, cash flow statement, business tax returns, copy of the current lease, insurance policies, and employee agreements to name a few.

Compile due diligence information

When potential buyers evaluate a company , they expect the records and facts to be properly organized and documented. The location of due diligence documents is commonly known as the data room. There are many aspects of selling a business to consider such as, legal, accounting, financial, operations, human resources and much more. Providing business information in a logical, organized format for all buyers not only helps build trust during the sale process but can reduce the time it takes a potential buyer to complete their due diligence analysis. Ensure you have all the critical documents and records needed in a framework that is easy to understand and reference for buyers.

Assemble a qualified “team”

Don’t go it alone. If you’ve determined that your business is ready for sale, save yourself time, money, and frustration by building a trusted team of advisors. These experts can help you strategize, overcome the challenges ahead, and secure the highest possible value—so you can focus on running your business in the interim. Research their qualifications, track record and experience. In order to get the highest value for your business and to negotiate the selling process effectively and efficiently, it is imperative that you enlist qualified professionals that you can trust with confidential information. Experts that can help during the transition include an accountant, CFO, tax expert; lawyer; business broker; business appraiser/valuation expert; and banker or other financier, if third party funding is needed.

Guillermo can be reached at gbirmingham@b2bcfo.com. B2B CFO® provides Management Advisory Services to owners of privately held companies. We focus on increasing cash and company value. Our services include improvements in finance, accounting and operations, company growth, as well as helping owners to transfer or sell their companies. Our professionals work directly with business owners, on-site. Each of our 200+ professionals is an equity owner and brings 25 plus years of senior-level experience. With a nationwide presence, B2B CFO® is the largest company of its kind in the United States. Founded in 1987 and headquartered in Mesa, Arizona, B2B CFO® has ranked in the Inc. 5000 and was recognized in 2018 as one of Forbes Magazine’s “Small Giants.” For more information please visit www.B2BCFO.com.

Time for E-Commerce Entrepreneurs

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This is a Guest blog post from Andre Averbug. See below for more info about Andre.

Launching an online business, or e-commerce, has never been easier than in the past ten years. There are fantastic resources available that allow for the seamless development and operation of e-stores. For example, in 2017, working only nights and weekends, I was able to launch an online shop for apparel and accessories in just a couple of months. And today, given the COVID pandemic, with the difficult job market and the need for social distancing, e-commerce has become particularly opportune. It is a great time to be your own boss and become an e-commerce entrepreneur. 

Setting up an e-commerce doesn’t require technical skills. I had never coded or designed a website. Still, I was able to set up my e-store completely on my own. Platforms such as ShopifyBigCommerce and Wix provide you with the complete toolbox needed for your e-commerce, including awesomely designed templates, integrated payment methods, SEO best practices, storage, analytics and much more. To develop your website, they operate intuitively and all you need to do is tick boxes and drag-and-drop sections and images. They also integrate with several useful management apps, which help you with marketing, CRM, logistics and all other aspects of running the business. Finally – and very importantly – these platforms are quite affordable, with plans starting as low as $10 per month.

In terms of supply chain – assuming you will be selling physical products – our lives have also been made easier by fulfillment and drop-shipping companies, like PrintfulSPOD and CustomCat. Through these, you can automate the supply management of the business, from sourcing and production to distribution. Not only that, but depending on what you sell, you can set up your business with no overhead or inventory costs and have your products be manufactured and shipped on demand, one by one, as orders come in.

The beauty is that what’s left is what the majority of entrepreneurs would consider to be the most pleasant side of any business: value proposition, strategic positioning, product-market fit and design, marketing, and customer relationship. In my case, for the most part, I developed the business concept and worked on the strategy and marketing. My partner, who was a fantastic artist, took care of product designs. Other parts of the business, from video animations, to product copy and press releases, were outsourced to freelancers from websites such as Fiverr and Upwork.

Finally, there are plenty of free resources out there to help you refine your idea and assist you in running a successful e-business. For example, pick a few e-commerce podcasts to listen to, such as Shopify Masters and Ecommerce Fuel. Read relevant blogs such as Digital MarketerGet Elastic and Practical Ecommerce. This article on customer value optimization (CVO) is a great place to start thinking about your business.

If you have a workable idea for a product or service to sell online, this is the time to pursue your startup dream. Let’s get to work!

Andre portrait

Andre Averbug is an entrepreneur, economist, and writer. He has over two decades of international experience working in the intersection of economic development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. He has worked and lived in multiple countries across North and South America, Europe, Africa, and Central Asia.

Andre has started and run four startups, in Brazil and the US, and was awarded Global Innovator of the Year in 2009 by World Bank’s infoDev. He has extensive experience supporting companies as mentor and consultant, both independently and as part of incubators such as 1776 and the Kosmos Innovation Center, and programs like Shell LIVEWire, StartUp Weekend and WeXchange.

As an economist, Andre has worked in topics ranging from innovation ecosystems, entrepreneurship and MSME development policy, competitiveness, business climate, infrastructure finance, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), and country assistance strategy for the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), and the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). He has also consulted for clients such as DAI Global, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), TechnoServe, among many others. He holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of London (UK) and an MBA from McGill University (Canada). Andre lives in the Washington, DC area.

He writes an awesome Blog called Entrepreneurship Compass and you can sign up here: https://entrepreneurshipcompass.com

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

This is a Guest blog post from Ines LeBow.

Mark Cuban’s Beatitudes: 7 Factors for Startup Success

Shark Tank star Mark Cuban has been a startup investor and serial entrepreneur since his teenage years selling garbage bags, creating chain letters, offering dance lessons, and even running newspapers from Cleveland to Pittsburgh during a strike of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mr. Cuban is ranked #177 on the Forbes 400 list for 2020 with an estimated $4.3B in net worth.

Anyone who has listened to Mark knows that he has a lot to say and has very strong opinions on many topics. My goal here is to summarize how to be successful in business, especially for entrepreneurs in the startup arena. I’ve distilled Mark’s approach down to 7 key factors.

Be Passionate

Passion is at the core of everything in business, especially a startup business. Our passion will dictate the energy we bring to our work and will transmit our excitement to prospective customers, vendors, and partners.

“Love what you do or don’t do it.”

Be Ready

The ideal time is now, according to Mark Cuban. You need to always be moving forward in a tangible way to achieve your business and startup goals. You’ll always have doubts and the world will always put doubters in your path to throw up obstacles, to hurt your confidence, and to smother your passion. Don’t let them stop you, and don’t let changing circumstances keep you from doing it now (see “Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition”).

“Always wake up with a smile knowing that today you are going to have fun accomplishing what others are too afraid to do.”

Be Bold

Dictionary.com defines bold as “not hesitating or fearful in the face of actual or possible danger…courageous and daring…beyond the usual limits of conventional thought or action; imaginative.” For a startup to be successful, an entrepreneur must be bold but not blind. They must have a clear understanding of what they are doing and why as well as what they’re strengths and weaknesses are. You really aren’t bold or courageous if you don’t recognize the challenges or dangers that you need to overcome to succeed. See my recent article on being bold in getting investor funding (“How Far Will You Go to Get Your Business Funded?”).

“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed. You only have to be right once.”

Be Knowledgeable

Knowing the business, the market, the players, the customers and their sentiments are all essential to being prepared to succeed in a startup business. Whether you need to convince Angels or PE/VC investors to fund your business or you are bootstrapping it, you need to know what it will take to win. Without this knowledge you have almost no chance to succeed. By the way, as your business grows and the market changes, you need to continually upgrade your knowledge to improve what you do and how you do it.

“Because if you’re prepared and you know what it takes, it’s not a risk. You just have to figure out how to get there. There is always a way to get there.”

Be Honest

Entrepreneurs who lie to themselves about their products, services, competitors, customers, and market conditions aren’t going to be in business very long. Don’t just make assumptions but deal in facts. If you’ve already formed assumptions, work hard to validate or invalidate them so you can prepare a genuine SWOT analysis. This will help you launch the business and bring the right product to market at the proper place and price with the proper message.

“One problem people have is that they lie to themselves…rarely is talent enough. You have to find ways to make yourself standout. You do so by playing to your strengths and making people aware of those strengths.”

Be Humble

Every startup entrepreneur wants to believe that their product or service has never been done before, but the ones who proceed with that mindset are inviting peril. Be a student of history. One of the first things you learn is that humankind doesn’t learn from history because we keep repeating the same mistakes. Humility will make you realize that somebody somewhere has probably tried this before. Do your research…and not just a quick Google search. Find out who tried and how they failed. Use their experience to learn the hard lessons without suffering the personal setbacks.

“One thing we can all control is effort. Put in the time to become an expert in whatever you’re doing.”

Be Unique

While your product or service may not be completely new, you need to make at least one aspect of it your own. Consider what characteristics you bring to the product, to how or to whom it is marketed, or how it is delivered to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If you try to be the same, you have no basis other than price on which to compete, and someone newer and cheaper can easily come along to take your market away from you.

“Creating opportunities means looking where others are not.”

“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?”

“Success is about making your life a special version of unique that fits who you are – not what other people want you to be.”

If you aggressively pursue these 7 areas, your chances of startup success increase dramatically. What are you waiting for? As Mark Cuban says, the perfect time is now.

To learn more on how to stand out with an epic fundraising story, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at ilebow@transformationsolutions.pro. You find her on LinkedIn Profile at www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow or her ETS website at www.transformationsolutions.pro.

Before setting 2021 priorities, ask “What’s my ‘WHY’?”



This is a Guest blog post from Sales expert Chris Tully.

Before setting 2021 priorities, ask “What’s my ‘WHY’?”

Before you go all-in on finalizing the 2021 business plan, maybe it’s worth a review of what drove you to start your own company in the first place.

Simon Sinek, author of Start with Why, believes that true success comes from a core belief that inspires others and infuses every achievement.

When I’ve asked people “Why did you start your business?” over the years, I’ve heard as many unique answers as people I asked, many of which do relate to pursuing a passion or core belief. The Wright brothers did that. They believed that they could make a flying machine – and without financing, higher education, or even much help, they succeeded and changed the world. 

In my experience, a business doesn’t have to have such a grandiose goal to succeed – and there are surely multiple definitions of success. So, what’s yours? Make sure you can articulate why you started, and what you are trying to accomplish – as specifically as possible.

Take a little time to reflect

Examining where you started and where you are now can shed some light on where to go next.

Is the original reason for starting your business still what drives you every day? Is everyone who works with you on board with that? Do your colleagues share your values and core beliefs? Do they share your vision and mission or could conflicting priorities be draining some of your momentum?

If your motivation has changed, has that motivation been carefully communicated and incorporated in how you run your business? Or is confusion over the goal causing some unexpected consequences?

What did you originally hope to achieve? Are you still on track to achieve that? If not, why not? Getting back on track (or adjusting course) should be part of your business plan.

Move forward with confidence

Only when you can articulate the above concepts with clarity and certainty should you start working on your business plan for 2021. For the coming year you’ll need:

SMART goals (for a quick primer on goal setting, check this out).

The right people in the right seats on your bus – especially at the leadership level

A repeatable sales process  that anyone with the right skills and motivation can follow

Simple, easy to understand key performance indicators (KPIs)

A CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system to monitor progress

A reliable sales management process

If any of these are missing, or if you are wondering how to make what’s in place more effective, perhaps we should talk.

With everything 2020 has brought (wrought), now is a good time for introspection. If you begin with why you were inspired to start your business in the first place, then I believe you can work out the “what” and “how” steps for a successful 2021.


Are you satisfied with your company’s sales effectiveness? If you feel like you need to do a better job attracting and winning the right prospective clients, give me a call.


Chris Tully is Founder of SALES GROWTH ADVISORS. He can be reached at (571) 329-4343 and ctully@salesxceleration.com“For more than 25 years, I’ve led sales organizations in public and private technology companies, with teams as large as 400 people, and significant revenue responsibility.I founded Sales Growth Advisors to help mid-market CEOs execute proven strategies to accelerate their top line revenue. I have a great appreciation for how hard it is to start and grow a business, and it is gratifying to me to do what I am ‘best at’ to help companies grow faster and more effectively.Let’s get acquainted. I am certain I can offer you an experienced perspective to help you with your growth strategy.”

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership – Part Four

This is the fourth and final part in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

Embracing Your Competitive Advantage

Ask any sports athlete what gives them the fire to take their field of play, and they will likely cite the prospect of beating their rival. Indeed, without the subplot of competition, sports would be exceedingly boring – for both the players and the viewers.

As CEOs, competition, too, represents our drive, our passion, our reason for being. Though we might actually prefer owning the playing field and having it all to ourselves, we can be relatively assured that we will have company as we pursue excellence and strive for the only true tangible measure of success – revenue growth.

As you know, this blog series has been keenly focused on helping you achieve this drive for excellence. In previous blogs, we have looked inward – talking about how being more engaged with your team and how focusing on the way consumers are embracing (or eschewing) your product or service, are critical keys to growth-oriented success.

Now, it’s time to take a look beyond our walls – at the competitive forces that we must manage in order to ensure survival. Understanding how our rivals are nipping at our heels is the essential insight to positioning our product or service appropriately in the marketplace. To be a successful leader, you must be able to identify where your company advantages are really resonating — whether it is product quality, customer service, uniqueness, corporate structure, or some other characteristic — and use those attributes in your promotional efforts.

In my work with companies, I have noticed that a surprising number have not considered these competitive essentials. Even more companies have stuck with antiquated methods to promote their competitive advantage – only to watch that advantage evaporate due to technology.

In these situations, there are some fundamentals that I recommend CEOs follow immediately to get their competitive efforts on track:

Review Your Positioning: With the world changing so rapidly, this is something I recommend doing on an annual basis. What may have been a competitive advantage five years ago may not even raise the consumer’s eyebrow today. This may require some internal restructuring – particularly with marketing – to ensure that the company can keep pace with market dynamics.

Take the Pulse of the Market: Now is the time to invest in robust qualitative and quantitative research that gets to the heart of changing consumer tastes. I often see companies that come up with a great idea for a new product and accelerate its launch, while skipping critical steps. Gauging consumer demand, surprisingly, generally is the step that is overlooked.

Understand the Essence of Sales Pressures: It has been easy for any company to blame flagging demand on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic – which has been a smokescreen for some companies who were already experiencing the effects of competitive pressure. The ability to see the big picture through a regular, and in-depth, competitive analysis, is a critical part of sifting through the superficial and getting to the heart of matters.

Call in an Expert: Sometimes, putting the competitive landscape into perspective is a bigger job than your existing go-to-market team is able to manage. Even people who go to a doctor for regular checkups will, at times, need a specialist – or a surgeon! That’s why it can be wise to call upon a specialist in market analysis to make a true, objective, third-party examination of the forces that are impacting your standing in the marketplace. They can also help you assemble a library of resources so you can consistently be updating your competitive research and ensure that you don’t fall behind on this important strategy again.

As a CEO, it’s critical that you use the tools in your arsenal to earn – and keep – your competitive advantage. Rather than viewing competitive research as an expense item, consider it a priority to help you break through the clutter that has only been amplified due to the onslaught of digital tools.

In case you missed the previous articles in the series:

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership – Part Three

This is the third in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

Knowledge Is Power

What’s holding you aloft in 2020?

Whether or not you have cracked the code of 2020, most CEOs have spent the year snapping back to a changed reality. In our last blog, we looked at the importance of being engaged, insightful, and plugged in as the “table stakes” of leadership change in turbulent times.

But all the engagement in the world is pointless if you don’t know the direction from which your headwinds and tailwinds are coming.

More to the point: If your company were an airplane, then insights—the detailed information you need to understand competitors, targets, trends, and market news—can be considered the wind beneath your wings.

And if you don’t have a keen focus on how these megatrends are keeping your ship in blue skies, you may just find yourself hopelessly lost in a cloud bank. And falling asleep at the controls – well, that could just be deadly.

A recent example: I was working with a large hospital group in the mid-Atlantic region that was trying to understand why a satellite emergency care facility wasn’t generating the profits they expected. My first fact-finding mission—a demographic market survey—uncovered a critical misstep by the group: There was simply no need for the satellite facility to begin with, based upon the existence of other healthcare facilities in the region and the size of the market.

It became abundantly clear: A simple dive into the basic blocking-and-tackling of insights would have saved the company millions – and the awful mistake of building something for which there was no demand.

It’s a faux pas that I see repeated time and again: Leaders, without any research whatsoever, and based simply on a “good idea,” are convinced to plunge resources into products or services that fall flat in the market, and then wonder why they’re not making any sales.

In my view, this is but one example of why the ability to look at data and insights is a critical skill for CEOs who are looking to make more effective decisions – a basic tenet of being in charge these days.

So, what types of insights should a CEO be focused on in order to ensure the relevance of their offerings? Here are just a few fundamentals that I believe are useful:

Customer Focus: It’s important not to become too far removed from your buyers these days. In days of yore, it used to be that successful CEOs could get away with pushing off customer insights on other department heads. Now, with digital marketing, and the availability of instant knowledge about target audiences, the CEO has to be keenly aware of market factors which can move for – or against – them quickly.

The most successful CEOs I work with are the ones that have innate knowledge about their customers and their relationships with their companies. They even phone customers directly to hear what is driving their decision making. In this manner, they can see a necessary pivot coming if customer needs are changing, or if the market is exerting different forces on their business.

Insights Machine: Some companies have elevated insights to an art form and have even installed Chief Information Officers to help lasso, wrangle, and otherwise manage myriad data points into submission. This new CIO role ensures that a member of senior leadership has accountability for delivering proprietary knowledge and a library of information that helps keep the company’s competitive edge sharp.

Research, Analyze, Repeat (Often): Both CEO and CIO will benefit from a robust and dynamic industry analysis program that delivers insights on a very regular basis. No longer is it appropriate to conduct this type of research once a year – once a quarter may be the appropriate interval to gather data that spells out all the threats and opportunities that are hitting their specific industry. And in my experience, the most insightful companies don’t just insist, but mandate, that their entire senior leadership team, as well as their board members, consume this knowledge.

As an example, I worked with a company recently that was experiencing massive shipping delays as a result of the pandemic and couldn’t quite figure out why. After gathering insights, they learned that lighter packages were being delivered significantly faster than heavier ones. By unbundling some of the shipments into smaller chunks, they could significantly accelerate their supply chain.

Another company in the beverage industry was having trouble sourcing the bottles that their drinks were packaged in – and upon analysis, learned that this would remain a challenge during the pandemic. They pivoted their entire production line to can-based packaging to ensure their ability to keep up with the surging demand for their product.

In our next blog, we’ll roll up what we’ve learned about the importance of being an engaged and well-informed CEO and put these traits to work in honing your competitive advantages in the marketplace.

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.

Positioning for Explosive Growth: A CEO’s Guide To Enthusiastic Leadership: Part Two

This is the second in a 4-part Guest Blog post series by Sarah Polk, Chief Marketing Officer at Chief Outsiders.

The Four Inhibitors of Engaged Leadership

Little known fact about ducks: Though they exude grace as they glide atop the water, ducks hide a little secret just below the surface.

For all the poetry they project in our view, ducks are actually shuffling their feet quite quickly to achieve that silky-smooth movement.

As a CEO, you know this bifurcated existence all too well. Though you are expected — nee, required — to display a semblance of outward calm, beneath this facade are the fears, insecurities, and realities that come with the job.

So why must you glide and not shuffle — especially given all that the recent past has thrown at business leaders?

It’s a proven fact: If a business leader is passionate, energetic, and hardworking, it filters down to company employees. This is leadership by example at its best.

In addition, an effective leader can quickly gather the information needed to make decisions and act without hesitation. With such a leader, employees are loyal, self-actualized, and tend to go beyond traditional work requirements. Competitors have difficulty replicating this leadership style.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the costs of being a disengaged CEO can be immense. One study undertaken by The Engagement Institute found that employees left rudderless by ineffective leadership can cost companies between $450 and $550 billion — with a B — per year.

So, what are some of the pitfalls that can derail engagement and cause you to paddle in circles, rather than to glide ahead?

Lacking Authenticity: Having your actions match your words — coming off as being authentic and true — is as simple as doing what you say you’re going to do. To the contrary, if a CEO is saying something about how valuable employees are — and then turns around and cuts retirement benefits or buys himself a corporate jet in a time of austerity — he can inflict significant damage. Being authentic is the first key to displaying the guts and leadership skills to take quick action.

Indecisiveness: A lack of decisiveness can put a stranglehold on your resources, and by extension, your company. Any time not spent on executing the strategy and vision to move the company forward tends to be wasted. One coping mechanism I have observed over the years has been when a leader ends up spending too much time in tactical minutiae, as a distraction to making the big decisions that will move the company forward. A fearful leader — one unable to make decisions — can have a ripple effect throughout the company and create a culture of fear.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence: It’s critical to remain focused on the task at hand, and to see it through to completion. Too many times, I have observed CEOs lose the respect of their employees because it was clear that they were trying to be good at EVERYTHING, and instead weren’t any good at ANYTHING. This often is embodied in a patchwork of short-term fixes that made little sense for the long-term growth of the company (though they did look good on the CEO’s resume). This type of behavior became transparent to the members of the leadership team, and ultimately made it hard to keep people motivated to undertake, and execute, on the big-picture items.

No Support Structure: There are others in your shoes who are grasping for the same brass ring, but struggle with the same insecurities. Groups like Vistage and other executive networking programs provide the missing outlet for the need to have a truly honest and inwardly focused discussion.

I recently met with the CEO of an up-and-coming West Coast beverage company, led by a similarly rising star in enterprise. In his early 30s, this CEO already has expanded nationally and completed two rounds of capital raise. But all this time, he felt the crushing stress of having to undertake this major expansive cycle in isolation. Through the supportive atmosphere of Vistage, the CEO was able to find solace among others who had walked in his shoes.

In our next blog, we will explore the ways an engaged leader uses insights and intelligence to make more effective decisions. Meanwhile, check out my recent interview with OnFire B2B Podcast.

Sarah Polk

With deep senior level management and marketing expertise, Sarah leads businesses through international expansion initiatives, difficult transitions, mergers, acquisitions, and turnarounds. Adept at recognizing growth opportunities, strategic positioning, creative conceptualization, new product launches, and brand management, she builds and expands extensive marketing departments to maximize ROI and shareholder value. Also skilled at product marketing, she works with engineering teams to craft products that meet the market’s needs. With an ability to inspire and lead cross-functional global teams, Sarah builds productive, long-lasting business relationships.